Slayings of 4 Soldiers' Wives Stun Ft. Bragg
Husbands Alleged to Have Committed Killings; 3 Suspects Were in Special Operations in Afghanistan
By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 27, 2002; Page A03
The wives of four Army soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., have been slain in the past six weeks, allegedly by their husbands, in a rash of violence that has shocked the Special Operations Command and left Army commanders deeply concerned, officers at the base said yesterday.
Three of the servicemen involved were members of Special Operations units and had recently returned from Afghanistan. Two of those soldiers killed themselves, police said. The fourth slaying, which occurred earlier this month, was allegedly committed by a sergeant from a regular Army unit that was not involved in the Afghan war.
In addition to these six deaths, an officer assigned to the Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg was shot and killed earlier this week as he slept in his home in nearby Fayetteville. No arrests have been made in that case, a spokesman for the Fayetteville police department said.
"It's mind-boggling," Henry Berry, manager of an Army family support program, said at a news conference at the base yesterday. "To be absolutely honest, I was completely caught off guard."
Fort Bragg is one of the Army's biggest bases. It is home to about 40,000 troops, including two elite units, the 82nd Airborne Division and the Army Special Forces Command, that have played key roles in the Afghan war.
Special Forces troops were at the fore of the U.S. offensive in Afghanistan last fall, coordinating airstrikes against Taliban and al Qaeda front lines and also working with local Afghan opposition forces. Parts of the 82nd Airborne recently were deployed to Afghanistan to replace units from the 10th Mountain and 101st Airborne divisions.
Commanding officers at the base, especially in Special Forces, are puzzled and concerned by the string of killings, military officials said. "They're running around in circles here," one senior officer said in a telephone interview.
"I've never seen anything like it," said retired Air Force Col. John Carney, who spent almost two decades in Special Operations units. He said he knows many of the commanders of the units involved.
"I'm sure they're just as mystified as I am," said Carney, who is president of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charitable organization that provides free college educations to the children of Special Operations troops killed on missions or in training.
Carney said he expects that commanders at Fort Bragg will conduct a review of how troops and their families were handled as they returned from Afghanistan to "try to figure out where they missed signals, and hopefully avoid future problems."
The domestic murders on the base were first reported in yesterday's editions of the Fayetteville Observer.
At the news conference, Col. Jerome Haberek, a Special Operations chaplain, said, "We're going to evaluate everything we do."
The recent killings echo the most notorious slaying ever at Fort Bragg, the 1970 killing of the wife and two daughters of Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald, a Special Forces doctor. MacDonald was convicted in a 1979 trial that later was the subject of a book by Joe McGinniss and a TV miniseries, both titled "Fatal Vision." McGinniss's controversial volume became the subject of at least two other books.
Murderous violence at Fort Bragg also gained attention twice in recent years.
In October 1995, William Kreutzer Jr., a sergeant from Clinton, Md., opened fire on fellow members of the 82nd Airborne who were on a morning run, killing an officer and wounding 18 other soldiers.
In December of that year, three white Fort Bragg soldiers shot and killed a black couple in Fayetteville in what prosecutors said was a racist skinhead initiation rite.
This summer's killings began on June 10, when Sgt. 1st Class Rigoberto Nieves, a member of the Third Special Forces Group who had returned from Afghanistan two days earlier, shot his wife and then himself, according to Fayetteville police. He had requested leave from duty in Afghanistan to resolve personal problems, police said.
On June 29, the wife of Master Sgt. William Wright of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion, a Special Forces unit, was strangled. Wright, who had been back from Afghanistan about a month, was charged with murder last week.
On July 9, Sgt. Cedric Ramon, a member of the 37th Engineer Battalion, which was not involved in the Afghan war, allegedly stabbed his estranged wife at least 50 times and then set fire to her house.
On July 19, Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Floyd shot and killed his wife and then himself, according to investigators. Floyd was identified by the Fayetteville Observer as a member of the Delta Force, a crack anti-terrorism unit whose existence is not officially acknowledged.
The Special Operations Command officer who was killed earlier this week was Maj. David Shannon. He was shot in the head and chest as he slept, police said.
Part of what puzzles officials is that over the past 15 years, the Army has made huge efforts to take care of the families of deployed soldiers, as it saw that the end of the draft and the advent of the volunteer force meant that more of its troops were likely to be married.
In 1973, just before the draft ended, 24 percent of Army enlisted troops were married. By the time of the Gulf War, in 1991, that figure had more than doubled, to 55 percent. The number has since dropped slightly, to 50 percent.
"It used to be that families were left at loose ends," one officer with decades of experience recalled yesterday. "Since the Gulf War, there's been a pretty good family support system." Those official organizations convey information about deployed units and also monitor the emotional states of spouses.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Washington Post reporter Steve Vogel covers local and regional military issues. His Military Matters column runs every other week.
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